Game out how the next Congress would resolve a tie in the electoral college
There was a period during the intense drama of Tuesday night’s election when it appeared possible that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would both end up with 269 electoral votes, leaving them tied for the presidency. Should this happen in a presidential election, the Constitution mandates that the House of Representatives choose the winner after the electors cast their votes, which would have prolonged the 2016 political grappling until early January.
But there’s a catch in the rules: Rather than have all 435 House members cast a ballot to break a tie, each state’s congressional delegation chooses a winner independently, so that there are ultimately only 50 or 51 votes cast. (The District of Columbia’s role is ambiguous.) This procedure will be familiar to any fan of the HBO political satire Veep, in which President Meyer is relying on 26 votes in the House to break a deadlock in the electoral college.
Because this vote would happen after the new House of Representatives is sworn in, according to the Wall Street Journal, it’s not immediately apparent what would have happened had Clinton and Trump each racked up 269. To game out how this tie-breaker might have played out, TIME used the most current information on Tuesday’s House elections, in which Republicans have about 45 more seats than Democrats, to create a model of how the newly convened 115th Congress would have chosen between Trump and Clinton. You can manipulate any of the assumptions below by clicking or tapping on the delegations and changing how individual lawmakers would vote.
As you can see, the Republican-heavy House would probably have elected Trump, assuming lawmakers generally voted for the presidential candidate of their own party.
In fact, a tie like this isn’t an impossible outcome this cycle, though it’s an unlikely one. As of Wednesday morning, Trump had won 276 electoral votes –just seven more than halfway mark. As Haley Sweetland Edwards recently wrote on TIME, a small number of the electors have threatened to vote for someone other than the winner of their state’s popular vote. It’s not an unheard of rebellion. In 1972, for example, one of Virginia’s electors who was pledged to Richard Nixon cast his vote for Libertarian John Hospers, making him one of 157 such “faithless electors” over the course of American history.
The Republican dominance in the House makes an unlikely electoral tie a less than feasible route to Clinton salvaging her candidacy. But with so few options left, convincing a few dozen lawmakers that she deserves the presidency wouldn’t be the strangest thing that’s happened this election cycle.